Banned outfits in Pakistan operate openly on Facebook

Islamabad: 41 out of Pakistan’s 64 banned outfits are present on Facebook in the form of groups and individual user profiles and were operating openly via the social media giant, a media report said on Monday.

According to an investigation carried out by Dawn news last month, the outfits’ network, both interconnected and public, is a mix of Sunni and Shia sectarian groups, global terror organisations operating in Pakistan, and separatists in Baluchistan and Sindh provinces.

The names of all banned outfits – including acronyms and small variations in spelling – were searched on Facebook to find pages, groups, and user profiles that publicly “liked” a banned outfit.

The biggest outfits on the social network, in order of size, are Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) with 200 pages and groups, Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM) with 160, Sipah-i-Sahaba (SSP) with 148, Balochistan Students Organisation Azad (BSO-A) with 54 and Sipah-e-Muhammad with 45, according to the Dawn news investigation.

Other banned outfits which exists on Facebook at a smaller scale include Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Tehreek-e-Taliban Swat, Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, Jamat-ul-Ahrar, 313 Brigade, multiple Shia outfits and a host of Baloch separatist organisations.

“An examination of some user profiles linked to these banned outfits indicates open support of sectarian and extremist ideology,” Dawn news said in its probe report.

A few of these profiles have also publicly “liked” pages and groups related to weapons use and training.
While some of the Facebook pages and groups claim to be “official” representatives of the outfits, others appear to be managed by members and supporters in ideological agreement.

“In general, the Facebook updates were in Urdu or Roman Urdu rather than English, suggesting the content was primarily for local consumption. A very small number were in Sindhi or Balochi, also indicating a niche target audience,” the report added.